April 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Whiskers, Dreams, and Grave-Robbing Schemes | More on Abraham Lincoln

Coinciding with the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation (January, 1863), as well as the delivery of the Gettysburg Address (November,1863), 2013 brings a number of new titles about America’s favorite president, Abraham Lincoln. These books offer readers the opportunity to revisit the man’s legacy over a welcome mix of formats and reading levels, and through a number of perspectives. Featured are fabulous picture books and top-shelf literary nonfiction.

Each title is described in terms of its strength as part of a varied collection on the president–his life, vision, and accomplishments–and is aligned to at least one Common Core State Standard (CCSS).

Picture Books

Fittingly illustrated in subtly textured, green-and-brown pages reminiscent of 18th-century broadsides and period folk art, Lane Smith’s Abe Lincoln’s Dream (Roaring Brook, 2012; Gr 2-5) follows a little girl named Quincy on a school tour of the White House. When a tall apparition in the Lincoln bedroom asks her about the state of the Union, she takes him on an ethereal tour over the city, reassuring him that the states remain united and that equality is “getting better all the time.” Incorporating Lincoln’s fondness for corny jokes, and his well-known habit of recounting recurrent dreams, the title masterfully combines creative illustration and factual information to deepen an understanding of the man. Teachers will key in on student response to essential questions about this president, evident in the text, such as: What was Lincoln concerned about? And, what evidence suggests he died before he accomplished his goals? 

Most images of Lincoln on money or monuments depict him with a beard, but it wasn’t always so. Steve Metzger’s Lincoln and Grace: Why Abraham Lincoln Grew a Beard (Scholastic, Jan. 2013; Gr 2-4), tells the true story of an eleven year-old girl’s letter to Lincoln encouraging the presidential candidate to grow a beard. Pen-and-ink watercolor illustrations by Ann Kronheimerin, in subtle grey and blue tones, provide a pleasing and realistic structure for the dialogue-driven narrative. Writing, “…your face is so thin,” Grace Bedell, of Westfield, NY, apparently convinced Lincoln that whiskers appeal to women who would then tease their husbands to vote for him.

Beyond the notion of accessibility of our presidents, or “the power of the pen,” the title squarely addresses women’s suffrage and includes sidebars and photographs about women and voting. Inset boxes present portraits of Lincoln and events such as the 1861 inauguration. Grace’s full-text letter and Lincoln’s response are appended, and may serve as models for writing persuasion pieces, and describing text types and purposes.

Reissued to commemorate the speech’s 150th anniversary, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: A Pictorial Interpretation Painted by James Daugherty (Albert Whitman, 1947, Feb. 2013; Gr. 3-6) is a full-color arrangement of murals painted by the late Newbery winner (Daniel Boone, 1940). Vibrant images of wounded soldiers, hardy farmers, slaves, politicians, and women appear in collages amidst pastoral landscapes with lines from the Gettysburg Address captioned beneath. An afterward provides a reproduction of the original speech, a discussion of its context, and a guide for readers about events and individuals portrayed in the Gettysburg murals, including depictions of the Founding Fathers, pioneers heading West, the tragedy of war, and more. Close reading of this primary document also allows students of all ages to assess the mood and somber tone in which it was given, in the context of America’s story, meeting standards for visual matching of text-to-image to convey a concept.

Middle Grades

Accompanying the recent release of Stephen Spielberg’s 2012 biopic, Lincoln, Harold Holzer’s companion book for young people, Lincoln: How Abraham Lincoln Ended Slavery in America (HarperCollins, 2012; Gr 5 Up), is a nuanced narrative that focuses on the President’s sometimes contradictory views on slavery as he struggled to end it, yet made concessions to slaveholders to prevent more states from seceding from the Union. Holzer highlights the emotional turmoil and the rocky political landscape Lincoln astutely navigated to ensure the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment.

Both social studies and ELA teachers can use this title to examine the craft and structure of two of Lincoln’s most important speeches, the final Emancipation Proclamation (issued January 1, 1863), and his Second Inaugural Address (delivered March 4, 1865). Supported by Holzer’s narrative, a close reading of these appended (and rather short) documents easily illustrates deliberate differences in Lincoln’s language, tone, and purpose that led to significant historical changes.

An alternate approach to this same time period is provided in Tanya Bolden’s Emancipation Proclamation: Lincoln and the Dawn of Liberty (Abrams, Jan 2013; Gr 5-10). Here, Lincoln’s political strategizing of the slavery issue takes a back seat to a look at the climate created by abolitionists, politicians, and the media. Bolden’s inclusion of political cartoons, editorials, and writing excerpts from Frederick Douglass, Horace Greeley, Wendell Phillips, Frances E.W. Harper, and others, will satisfy teachers’ needs to compare divergent points-of-view on a polarizing issue. Red font is used to paraphrase documents such as the Emancipation Proclamation, which is broken into chunks for better understanding. The layout features deep red-and-blue framing, antique paper design, and large images suitable for class discussion or visual display, including a stunning photograph of an elderly and frail Harriet Tubman dressed starkly from head-to-toe in white.

A high-interest literary narrative, Steve Sheinkin’s Lincoln’s Grave Robbers (Scholastic, Jan 2013; Gr 5-9), treats true-crime fans and young history buffs to a thriller. A legion of counterfeiters during the 1800’s plotted to steal Lincoln’s body from his unguarded tomb and hold it for ransom, forcing the prison release of their friend, a gifted counterfeiter named Benjamin Boyd.

While the lively tale strays from core content, it offers an array of figurative language, common idioms, and adages. Students are also introduced to period vocabulary, such as “coney” (counterfeiter), “roper” (undercover informant), and “ghoul” (grave robber). The grave robber’s plot was foiled by the Secret Service, who, heretofore, had been solely on the money trail, only later entrusted with guarding presidents. A cast of characters, gruesome details, and criminal photographs all add to an enticing independent read that effortlessly builds background knowledge.

Lincoln’s untimely death often overshadows his legacy, but Bill O’Reilly and Dwight Jon Zimmerman’s Lincoln’s Last Days: The Shocking Assassination That Changed America Forever (Holt, 2012; Gr 5-9) sets the historical stage for young readers in the present tense, putting them engagingly “in the moment.” As Lincoln goes to Washington D.C.at the end of the Civil War, John Wilkes Booth’s unconscionable assassination plan unfolds. Powerful storytelling alternates Lincoln’s movements with Booth’s, in a minute-by-minute description of the shooting and its aftermath. Page-turning suspense follows during the 12-day search for Booth and his co-conspirators. While the details of Lincoln’s death are graphic, the fascinating account meets the criteria teachers look for in titles students will read independently, and falling in the Lexile stretch band (1020L) for middle grades.

The titles suggested above reference the following Common Core State Standards in ELA and History /Social Studies literacy strands:

W.2.1. Write opinion pieces in which they introduce the topic or book they are writing about, state an opinion, supply reasons that support the opinion, use linking words (e.g., because, and, also) to connect opinion and reasons, and provide a concluding statement or section.

SL.2.3.  Ask and answer questions about what a speaker says in order to clarify comprehension, gather additional information, or deepen understanding of a topic or issue.

RL. 2.7.  Use information gained from the illustrations and words in a print or digital text to demonstrate understanding of its characters, setting, or plot.

RL.3.7.  Explain how specific aspects of a text’s illustrations contribute to what is conveyed by the words in a story (e.g., create mood, emphasize aspects of a character or setting)

RH.6-8.5.  Describe how a text presents information (e.g., sequentially, comparatively, causally).

RH.6-8.6.  Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author’s point of view or purpose (e.g., loaded language, inclusion or avoidance of particular facts).

RH.6-8.10.  By the end of grade 8, read and comprehend history/social studies texts in the grades 6–8 text complexity band independently and proficiently.

RI.6.10. By the end of the year read and comprehend literary nonfiction in the grades 6–8 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.

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  1. Hey just wanted to give you a quick heads up and let you know a
    few of the pictures aren’t loading properly. I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue.

    I’ve tried it in two different web browsers and both show the same results.